Wolfowitz Stresses Media and FOI as Anticorruption Tools

13 April 2006

World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz on April 11 put “the media and freedom of information” at the heart of his anti-corruption agenda, raising intriguing, if yet unanswered, questions about the specifics of his plans.

“I will be asking my staff in high-risk countries to develop a strategy to mobilize all World Bank instruments — loans, grants, research, technical assistance and private-sector investment — to strengthen governance and fight corruption,” Wolfowitz said in a major speech, given in Indonesia. He continued, “We will increase our investments in such key areas as judicial reform, civil service reform, the media and freedom of information and decentralization of public service delivery.”

Wolfowitz provided few additional details about what will happen next. The Bank has been involved in the areas of “media and FOI” for years, and Wolfowitz has been citing the pro-development benefits of greater transparency and media freedom in speeches for about six months. In March, freedominfo.org reported that “the idea of encouraging freedom of information laws as part of the development agenda is gaining currency, but slowly.” The report explored the limited World Bank efforts in the FOI area thus far and examined the possibility of greater Bank activity in this field.

Questions have been raised recently about the Bank’s support of media freedom, including the lack of a strong Bank reaction to government-backed trashing in Kenya of The Standard newspaper. David Hoffman, president of Internews Network, asked in an April 5 Herald Tribune column why the Bank took six days before issuing a rebuke for the raid, said the World Bank “would be well advised to make media freedom a precondition for future loans.”

The “human rights” appeal of Bank involvement with “media and FOI” issues may help overcome objections against Bank meddling in domestic politics, but that consensus may disguise difficulties in interpreting and executing the new mandate.

Cautions prior to the speech came from the Bretton Woods Project, which noted: “Many civil society organizations have called for increased use of World Bank conditions to deal with corruption. However, this may open the door for economic policy conditionality wrapped in good governance clothing.”

Potentially magnifying Wolfowitz’s strategy is the possibility that other international financial institutions will follow suit as part of a new IFI anticorruption alliance.

The Asian Development Bank recently detailed its efforts to foster freedom of information laws, replying to an inquiry from freedominfo.org.

Reader Comments Invited

What should the “media and FOI” agenda be?

freedominfo.org invites your short (or long) answers to two general questions:

  • What topics should be included under this agenda?
  • What policies and programs would you advise?

Please respond to tmcintosh@bna.com. Reader contributions may be used in subsequent freedominfo.org articles.

By Toby McIntosh

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ABOUT IFTI WATCH

In this column, Washington, D.C.-based journalist Toby J. McIntosh reports on the latest developments in information disclosure in International Financial and Trade Institutions (IFTI).
Contact: freeinfo@gwu.edu or
1-(703) 276-7748